Anecdotes from 65 years of travel: Unconventional transport

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 60 of the October 2012 issue.

(Part 3 of 3)

Shrouded chauffeur

After cycling through Tunisia in 1994, my wife, Flory, and I took the ferry from the port of Tunis to Trapani in Sicily, where we continued our 2-wheeler trip through Italy, France and Belgium, ending up in Amsterdam.

We were fortunate that we had been able to leave Tunisia without problems.

I still see us standing at the Tunisia emigration office, where our passports were scrutinized. As we had Tunisian entry stamps in our passports, we were allowed to board the ferry without problems. Other cyclists, who had entered Tunisia from Algeria via an unmanned border post and, thus, had no stamps, were not allowed to board the ferry and were told to leave Tunisia via the same Algerian border where they had entered, which was 400 miles away.

In Sicily, would-be immigrant Tunisians were made to wait to disembark until all “Europeans” had left the ship.

After the ferry docked in Sicily, we cycled to a nearby hotel. Unfortunately, the nearest restaurant was far away and we could not find a taxi.

I noticed a Muslim woman wearing a traditional headdress, her body completely covered by an Islamic robe, sitting in the driver’s seat of a car and asked her if she would take us to a restaurant. She consented but refused to accept any payment for her services.

To return to our hotel, we had the restaurant call a taxi.

Transport in style

In Quito, Ecuador, a taxi took us to the Chimbacalle railroad station. As we would not get back from our excursion until after 6 p.m., I asked our driver if there would be any taxis at the station upon our return.

“No problem,” he replied.

When we returned from our outing, the area around the station was deserted except for, by chance, a lone ambulance.

I explained to the driver that Flory and I were both physicians and that we were stranded. I asked if he would take us to our hotel.

We arrived at the hotel in style.

Gendarmerie to the rescue

As we picked up our rental car from Avis at the airport in Martinique, we were told that the pump for unleaded was out of order and that we should fill up with unleaded at the gas station a few hundred meters away.

The next morning, our car sputtered, hemmed and hawed. It finally came to a halt in front of a bar, where it refused to move.

It turned out that the car had a diesel engine, so it was now filled with the wrong fuel.

When I called Avis, the manager told me to come to their office, 20 minutes away by car.

Having no transportation to get there, I spotted two policemen and asked if they could take us to the Avis depot.

Twenty minutes later, the gendarmes let us off at the depot, and after obtaining a new car we were on our way.

‘We’ll keep looking’

It happened in 1949. Flory and I were still in medical school in the Netherlands. Even then, we liked to travel, albeit on a greatly reduced budget.

From Amsterdam, we hitchhiked to the French Riviera. At that time, thumbing a ride was still perfectly safe. One of “our” drivers even invited us to stay the night and provided us with dinner and breakfast gratis.

When we arrived in Nice, we asked a policeman for the name of an inexpensive hotel. It was, of course, far away from the beach. This did not bother us as long as the accommodation was cheap. We really did not even care what the room looked like (we do now) as long as the sheets were clean.

Flory waited downstairs while I climbed five flights of stairs to inspect the sheets.

“They are clean,” I said triumphantly.

Flory looked glum: “I don’t feel so clean; I was propositioned three times while waiting for you.”

The hotel the policeman had recommended was, indeed, cheap. It was in the red-light district.

Announcing one’s arrival

Traveling by rental motorhome in Europe was exciting. There was no packing and unpacking and no overnighting in less-than-desirable hotel rooms. Best of all, we felt like we were part of the native population.

Motorhoming in Europe was not as easy as in the US. Every morning, we had to empty the porta-potty into a designated sink and fill the water tank by inserting a heavy, unwieldy hose from the campground’s water supply into the appropriate opening of our vehicle.

Nevertheless, we loved every part of the experience, with the exception of the time we entered a campground and our vehicle’s horn would not stop blaring. I started and stopped the engine, then tightened and loosened all connections to the horn, all to no avail.

By then, a large group of angry campers had surrounded our motorhome, insisting in different languages that we make the horn stop its cacophonous noise.

Suddenly, I had an inspiration. I remembered the hammer. It was hanging on the wall of the motorhome, just longing to be used.

I grabbed the handle and, showing the hammer to the watching campers, hit the horn. The equipment, unable to withstand this onslaught, immediately became silent, as did the campers, who, now embarrassed, slunk away. Flory and I went on to enjoy a delightful alfresco dinner.

Unexpected private quarters

On guided hikes on the Milford Track in New Zealand, it is customary to overnight in dormitories with hikers of the same sex.

On a hike a while back, Flory was the first one to enter her dormitory. Being accustomed to fresh air while sleeping, she opened the dorm’s single small window. Other women coming in afterward violently objected and closed the open window.

As Flory could not sleep in the musty environment, she went to the housemother, who told her to make herself comfortable in the library, which she would have all to herself.

Unbeknownst to her, I went through the same routine.

Nobody was more surprised than Flory when I entered the library about 15 minutes after she did.

Remember the honor system?

One day while in Kathmandu, Nepal, we rented bicycles to reconnoiter the countryside. The bikes had wooden brakes, but the rental cost was only 32 rupees (then, 32 cents) per day — and we didn’t have to pay a deposit.

“Just write the name of your hotel and your room number in my book,” the shop owner said.

The world certainly has changed.